Category Archives: Pre-Teen

Becoming Real (Teen Parenting I)

Children’s stories talk about characters “becoming real” like in the Velveteen Rabbit or the Indian and the Cupboard. We  use the vernacular phrase “get real will you?” We shun people  who we deem to be “fake”. But what is “becoming real” in the  human sense?

Look at any adolescent and you can see the struggle of  “becoming real”. They live in a world of uncertainty. They  have so much confusion over their identities, confusion over  expectations, and confusion over sexuality. Parents have  expectations for them. “You can be a great pianist.” Society  has expectations for them. “Your generation will have to figure  out the global warming dilemma.” And the sexual expectations –  you have to be blind not to see those. How does any adolescent  today manage through this confusing morass and “become real”.

Let’s try to tease out all the confusion. Expectations and  identities go hand in hand. Children learn a “basic child self”  through the early years with their parents. Through praise and  their accomplishments children realize they have some skills  that perhaps they can build on.  By setting expectations and setting ideals for the future,  parents form for their child what I call an “expected self”.  This is an identify the parents expect their child to conform to  or become in the future.

Children naturally develop over time some deep-seated  expectations for themselves. This forms their “essential self”  that can often be in conflict with the parents “expected self”.  This sets up the dynamic often played up in movies. Have you  seen the one where the parent expects their child to be a  baseball or soccer star and the child wants to star in the  musical?

Wait. I am not finished yet! We have our teens pressured  by society’s expectations as well. Society expects success from  our kids in the long run. Yet in the short run there is  enormous pressure “to fit in”. These two things in society are  in conflict and each teen has to deal with this conflict. The  most common way is to conform. This is why teens dress the same  and act the same. The less common reaction is to openly rebel.  If a teen is “counter culture” they “confirm” to a different  group. It is an open rebellion to the expectations thrown at  our kids.

No. I am not done yet. Finally, quietly inside our kids a  sexual being emerges. It is likewise under social pressure.  And this is so unfair since ultimately this sexual being should  be a truly personal choice. Yet society weighs into this  struggle for teens in big ways. How many sexual messages do you  see everyday? How do these messages effect teens? Have you  watched a PG 13 movie lately? Have you looked at the magazines  in the checkout aisle?

Wow, what a mess. How can anyone “become real” out of this  mess! Becoming real for teenagers is about resolving these  conflicts. Kids need to become secure in themselves by fusing  together their “basic child self”, the parents’ “expected self”,  their own “essential self”, their “sexual self” and societies  expectations. Only then does a teen become a mature and stable  individual. I feel for them. I firmly believe that it has  never been harder. But we can support them through this time.

Teens need a “chaperoned freedom”. They need responsible  adults around but need their space at the same time. They need  to be respected for the least this horrible process that they  need to go through. They also need to be respected for their  skills. They need rules and guidance. They need really good  examples both in society and at home. They need adults who are  true to their adult selves so they can be inspired to be true to  their teen selves. With this, teens may ultimately achieve the  security, confidence and ability to meld all these expectations  and identities into one solid true self – they will have become

When we see problems with teens in society – violence,  drugs, and teen pregnancy – there are problems for these teens  in this process of becoming real. Some blame parents. Some  blame society. Some blame teens yet, in this complex process,  many factors affect teen development. It is up to all facets of  society, parents, schools, coaches, health providers, churches,  & leaders to take their responsibility in their contribution to  teen development seriously. I have said for years, if all  adults looked at what they were doing in their lives and  honestly assessed what impact it had on teenagers and kids we  would form a world of support for them that would empower them  (the teens) to change the world. I wish it to happen soon. We  need to support our next generation in “becoming real”. In the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of parenting  articles about parenting teens. Most of the articles will be  based on the theories I outlined above and that I have presented  in parenting workshops in the Northshore. I hope they help  parents during these troubling times.

Back To School Again

For many families the yearly ritual of preparing the return to school consists of buying new clothes, a backpack,  lunch bag, shoes, pencils and rulers. But for kids it can  be something more than the shopping spree handles. For  children, “back to school” means starting a new job. You  know that feeling you have when you start a new job? What  is my boss like? Can I meet the expectations? Will this  be harder than my old job? What are my colleagues like?  Will I fit in? These questions are not unlike the unspoken  questions that linger below the surface for most children  entering a new grade. How do we help our kids with these  questions?

The first thing we need to understand is that this is an  anxious time for children. That is the primary reason why  their behavior may be worse at the end of the summer (and  why we want them back in school). As kids try to stretch  out their fun, push our limits, and deny the inevitable  first day of school, our frustration rises. But we can  respond better to our kids if we understand their actions  in context with their anxiety. It may be appropriate for  kids to have a last hurrah of summer fun. But it is also  appropriate for them to prepare for the school year. Here  are some tips for getting your kids ready for success in  their new job.

  1.  Address their fears with confidence and  encouragement. All kids exhibit fears and doubts.  These are often an indirect way for children to ask  their parents “Should I be worried? How do you  think I will do in school, mom?” Viewing their  fears in this light makes our jobs as parents  easier. Even though we may be emotional about  our child’s next step in the progress of life (1st day of Kindergarten, to packing up for college)  these questions tell us what our job is. We must  reflect back to our children the confidence we have  in them. Clearly expressing confidence in their  ability in meeting your expectations is what our  children need when they express signs of fear about  a new year in school Of course, what you expect  needs to be appropriate for your child.
  2. Discuss your expectations for their school  year. What kind of grades do you realistically  expect your child to achieve? Express faith in  their ability to achieve. Then discuss other  expectations such as homework time, bedtime and  other house rules. The right structure at home  can help your child succeed. By setting the  expectations and ground rules at the beginning of  the year, we can help our kids succeed right from  the start.
  3. Ease your kids back to a school sleep schedule. It  is hard to start the first week of school too tired  to face the work. Towards the last week of summer  and Labor Day weekend, set bedtimes so that by the  first day of school your kids are “on schedule.”
  4. Plan on getting to know the expectations the school  has for your child. Talk to her teacher at the  beginning of the year. How much homework will  there by? How challenging will each subject be  for your child? Based on last year, what are  your child’s strengths? Weaknesses? How can you  support him best in those subjects?
  5. Set up an area for successful homework completion.  Find an area at home where your child is  comfortable working. It should be an area where  you can be close to help out when he needs it. All  the necessary supplies (pens, paper, glue, and  scissors) should be available at your homework area  just like at school or a home office. Discuss with  your child expectations for homework. It depends  on your child whether homework should be done right  after school or after some play time. Just make  it clear from the start that school doesn’t end  at the final bell. It must continue at home. By  setting some standards for homework with the right  supplies, space, and time frame, you give the  message that you value this part of their school  work.
  6. Check in with your child about his/her friends.  Children feel more comfortable in school if they  have a good group of friends. Conversely, children  have a harder time with school if they are lonely  or picked on. Bullying happens frequently in  schools. If you are worried about this with  your child, check in with their teacher and if  necessary, school officials. These issues need to  be addressed at every school and parents shouldn’t  handle it themselves.

We cannot take away the dread of the first day back to  school for our kids. But what we can do is be open about  realistic expectations and set up a structure for them  to achieve. Focusing on this can help our children feel  confident and ready for the new year’s challenges.